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CNET Deletes Thousands of Old Articles to Juice SEO

At Gizmodo, Thomas Germain writes:

Tech news website CNET has deleted thousands of old articles over the past few months in a bid to improve its performance in Google Search results, Gizmodo has learned.

Archived copies of CNET’s author pages show the company deleted small batches of articles prior to the second half of July, but then the pace increased. Thousands of articles disappeared in recent weeks. A CNET representative confirmed that the company was culling stories but declined to share exactly how many it has taken down.

CNET claims that removing articles helps with search engine optimization (SEO), even though Google explicitly advises against it. Who to believe? Google’s goal is to produce the “best” search results, whereas SEO experts aim to get their content into the top spots in search results by any means possible. Though I’m dubious of most SEO claims based on my experience with the TidBITS and Take Control sites over decades, it’s conceivable that SEO experts have discovered a hack that works—until Google tweaks its algorithms in response. Regardless, I disapprove of deleting legitimate content because there’s no predicting what utility it could provide to the future; at least CNET says it’s sending deleted stories to the Internet Archive. CNET writers might want to set up accounts with Authory (see “Authory Provides Writers a Permanent Record of Their Articles,” 24 March 2023).

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Comments About CNET Deletes Thousands of Old Articles to Juice SEO

Notable Replies

  1. What’s particularly egregious about CNET is their silly SEO excuse, which will probably prompt others to think this is a necessary thing to do.

    O’Reilly has also deleted a whole bunch of articles from the early-mid 2000s, but without any controversy or statement, such that I’m aware. I only noticed because the many things that I wrote for them are now 404.

  2. Lots of armchair criticism of SEO practices here from people who largely don’t have experience in it. (Not every website has Gruber’s reputation and virality!) Skepticism about the SEO industry is well-earned, but it’s not good to take Google’s recommendations as the authority either.

    So speaking as someone who’s adjacent to the SEO industry (not my job, but I’ve spent a couple of decades in publishing, digital media, and analytics), I can share a little detail about what I suspect is going on here.

    “Content pruning” is a common practice, and largely includes taking out of date content so that readers can focus on more current and/or profitable content. This is routine for large sites, and usually includes updating out-of-date but popular articles. Also has the benefit of trimming the amount of content to manage - spring cleaning, if you will.

    From an SEO perspective, Google will dedicate limited resources to indexing any given site (its so-called “crawl budget”). If you take down the pages that aren’t doing you any good because they’re unprofitable, Google stops spending resources on those pages, and stops sending traffic to pages that don’t make money. If you’re lucky and have better pages with relevant content, Google will hopefully send those people to those better pages instead.

    Or, if your new pages aren’t so hot (or your SEO experts mess up somewhere else), and Google sends those people to TidBits instead of CNET - oops!

    As for why Google says this isn’t necessary, well, CNET and Google have different objectives.

    CNET and Google are both in the advertising industry, but play different games. CNET makes the most money on pages where advertisers want the most eyeballs - usually very current content. They can sell ads at premium prices for that content.

    Google, meantime, specializes in selling ads on those “long-tail” rare searches that CNET could never get an advertiser to pay for. See, if CNET can’t sell a page to a premium advertiser, they’ll get a few pennies (at most) on that less valuable content by letting Google place ads on it via their ad network.

    Google also benefits from simply having MORE content. That’s more happy searchers who are looking for oddball things in the junk drawer of CNET’s archives. That’s more content to train its AI models on, too!

    But while that content doesn’t serve CNET’s interests, it is useful for individuals who want to comb the history of technology. So I’m very glad to see that it’s all ending up in the Internet Archive, and not being deleted forever.

  3. I’d probably get more out of this thread if I had any idea what “SEO” means. Does anyone care to explain? Thanks.

    I already get that “CNET” refers to some tech-related site I haven’t bothered to look at in 20 years or more.

  4. I do know what it means, but note that Google also knows and it’s exactly how it is able to let you know.

    SEO= Search Engine Optimization. It’s the algorithms used to rank Google and all other search engine results presented the user. There are no end of SEO experts out there that offer sites to raise their rank for a price. Sounds like some sites have figured out a way to do it for themselves.

  5. Good thing that I use Duck Duck Go then. I avoid google.crap as much as possible.

  6. Whatev. Thanks for definition.

  7. My guess is that newer articles are what creates more and better targeted adjacencies, and therefore better clicks, for CNET’s advertisers as well as its users. Content is all about the money, honey. It will take some time to see how this all falls out. And isn’t the first time Google messed with its rankings.

  8. May CNET and google both suffer the tedium of Heck, in my view. As in, to Heck with the both of them.

  9. Speaking as the son of an archivist, this fills me with horror. :slight_smile: But I realize that most publishers on the Internet don’t actually care about their content or its role in documenting history apart from its ability to generate impressions.

    Google has a pretty good page about this, but nowhere on it does it recommend deleting pages. I imagine CNET is considered a very large site in this context, but very few sites would be.

    Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way. Though it would seem that the long-tail search pennies would still be worthwhile to CNET as long as they don’t compete with the more current pages, and it’s not entirely clear to me that they would. Google and other search engines almost always provide newer pages in response to searches in favor of older pages.

    In this case, I think Google’s goals align with users’ goals—find the obscure content that actually answers the question—so I’m still siding with Google on this one. :slight_smile:

  10. A question is, when content is archived to the IA, is it still as findable by people researching a topic as when it was directly published on the main website?

    Or are search engines burying those results further down the rankings on search results?

  11. Sure, but let’s say they have an old article about the Mac IIfx getting a speed bump way back when. Old news of very limited interest. But TidBITS has a link pointing to it, so it has some benefit since TidBITS refers a click now and again and someone clicks through a Google search once a year.

    Instead of maintaining this page, CNET puts up a new article about a history of Mac models, which includes specs on a whole lot of different old Macs.

    Then they take that IIfx post, as well as a bunch of articles about other Mac II models, Mac Classics, etc., and redirect them to this fresh page.

    Now, with the collective traffic of all those old articles, it’s suddenly valuable to an advertiser. Plus they can provide more helpful content that’s focused on the needs of a modern reader. Google is also likely to refer the old traffic to that new page, provided it’s delivering something equally/more relevant to the couple of people a year who are looking for IIfx specs.

    (Or, if CNET follows true-to-form, they summarize all those articles with ChatGPT and then wonder why nobody reads the new page.)


    While I understand the theories behind this, I’d prefer that news sites maintain archives as a service to everyone. I have, more than once, searched TidBITS archives to track down an obscure fact about vintage tech because it’s a great repository of all kinds of information.

    The Internet Archive is great, but it’s not Google-easy (or TidBITS-easy) to surface content across its whole library.

  12. You’re probably describing CNET’s thinking and actions accurately, but I find it depressing. :slight_smile:

    I guess what bugs me about it is that “maintaining” that old page costs absolutely nothing in the context of an active site—it’s a few bits on a drive. And while the new page that’s not answering the user’s search request may earn a bit more in advertising, I’ll bet the work involved in creating it vastly outweighs how much it will actually earn.


  13. It also skews specialist journalism, as it reconstitutes originally-dated articles into newly-dated summary articles, as if the original event never happened nor was reported on at the time of said event by a journalist. We already have this in other forms, of course… articles that have ‘originally published’ and ‘edited on’ dates that are months or years apart; presumably to make them more appealing to SEO results.

    And as Adam said: the (GPT!) effort probably outweighs the actual earned value for the site.
    Unless the summary article links to the original articles to earn several page clicks – which of course they aren’t doing here, as the original articles have been removed. :person_shrugging:

    Sounds like a rubbish, gimmicky, and ultimately financially ineffective, way to operate to me.

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